CT of the Spine
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A CT scan, or CAT scan, is a common term for computerized tomography, a painless diagnostic imaging test that displays images of internal structures of the body on a computer screen. This exam is non-invasive and it assists physicians in making medical diagnoses. CT scans of internal organs, bones, soft tissue and blood vessels provide greater clarity and reveal more details than regular x-ray exams.
Sometimes contrast dye is injected into a vein in your arm. This dye highlights areas in your chest, which helps create clearer images (pictures) of your chest.
CT scanning of the spine allows for viewing of the vertebrae, discs and the spinal cord.
Need to Know
Nice to Know
Why is This Exam Done?
CT of the spine is done to detect spinal cord damage in patients who have been injured. Some other common reasons CT of the spine is used include:
- To evaluate the spine before and after surgery
- To detect tumors in the vertebrae
- To help diagnose spinal pain such as herniated discs
- To measure bone density in the spine
- To guide diagnostic procedures such as the biopsies
What Will Happen During the Exam?
The scanner is a large machine that has a tunnel-like hole in the middle. Prior to the start of the scan, our highly skilled technologist will position you on the CT examination table. You will be lying flat on your back. Next, the table will move through the scanner to determine the correct starting position for the exam. Then, the table will move slowly through the machine as the CT scan is performed. You may be asked to hold your breath during the exam. This is to ensure the highest quality images (pictures) possible.
You will be alone in the exam room during the CT exam. However, you will be able to see and hear the technologist at all times and they will be able to see and hear you.
A CT scan of the spine is usually completed within 30 minutes.
After a CT exam, you can return to your normal activities.
How Should I Prepare?
Metal objects including jewelry and eyeglasses may affect the CT images and should be left at home or removed prior to your exam.
Women should always inform their physician and the CT technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant.
Please inform your doctor and our technologist if you have any known allergies to contrast (dye).
Please dress in comfortable clothing. If you are wearing jewelry or anything else that might interfere with your exam, we will ask you to remove it.
Please take all the medications that have been prescribed to you by your doctor. Let our staff know what medications you have taken prior to your exam.
Food and Drink
You should not eat solid foods for two hours prior to your test. You may, however, drink plenty of clear fluids, such as water and broth. You may also drink black decaffeinated coffee or tea.
What Are the Benefits and Risks?
The benefits of CT of the Spine:
- Can provide more detailed, accurate results than traditional x-ray
- Option for 3D imaging and analysis
- Can detect problems/disease earlier
- Involves minimal risks
- Painless, noninvasive and accurate
- Fast and simple
- Can be performed if you have an implanted medical device, unlike MRI
- May eliminate the need for exploratory surgery or biopsy
Risks you should be aware of:
- Minimal exposure to radiation. However, the benefit of an accurate diagnosis far outweighs the risk.
- Inform your doctor of any recent illnesses or other medical conditions. Some conditions may increase the risk of an adverse effect.
- Women should always inform their physician and the technologist if they are pregnant or may be pregnant.
- Nursing mothers should wait for 24 hours after receiving contrast before resuming breast-feeding.
- Allergic reaction to contrast (the risk of serious allergic reaction is rare and our team is well-prepared to deal with such reactions should the need arise)
Where Can I Get This Exam?
CT of the spine is performed at the locations: